We provide tools and advocacy strategies to Oregonians with disabilities for upholding their civil rights. Based on the input we receive from our community, we prioritize issues that will have the greatest impact on the lives of the greatest number of Oregonians.
Freedom from Abuse & Neglect
Protect Oregonians with Disabilities from Abuse and Neglect
Everyone has the right to be free of abuse and neglect. We investigate allegations of abuse and neglect when the state or local authorities have not resolved the risk to the person with the disability. Our authority to investigate extends to jails, hospitals, schools, nursing facilities, and group homes.
Equal Access to the Community
Sidewalk & Crosswalk Improvements: State Highway System
To live as independently and fully as possible, Oregonians with physical disabilities rely on being able to safely cross the street and use sidewalks.
In March 2017, a federal judge approved a landmark settlement agreement —the largest commitment to accessible transportation in state history. The agreement between the Oregon Department of Transportation, the Association of Oregon Centers for Independent Living and Disability Rights Oregon calls for improving curb ramps and crossing signals across the entire state highway system.
We continue to measure the State’s progress in meeting the goals set out in this agreement and uphold the rights of Oregonians with disabilities to enjoy their communities.
Sidewalk & Crosswalk Improvements: Portland
We are partnering with the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (CREEC) to enforce their class-action federal lawsuit against the city of Portland for failing to ensure that people with mobility disabilities could access sidewalks and pedestrian walkways. As part of CREEC’s settlement agreement with the city of Portland, we will monitor Portland’s efforts to fix sidewalks or other pedestrian walkways that are missing curb ramps or have curb ramps that were damaged and not usable.
E-scooters: Safeguarding Sidewalk Safety & Accessibility
Our sidewalks and crosswalks should be safe and accessible for everyone. In 2019, Portland saw an unprecedented number of e-scooters across the city as part of a pilot program. We asked the City of Portland to enforce federal and local laws that ensure sidewalk accessibility.
We will continue to monitor whether the city complies with the ADA. We also joined the city in educating e-scooter users why riding safely is so important.
Protect Services that Help People Live in Their Homes
Adults and children with intellectual and developmental disabilities who need help with day-to-day care activities can receive support with food preparation, eating, toileting, communication, medication administration, bathing, and other activities through the Oregon Department of Health and Human Services’ in-home care services program.
In April 2017, we succeeded in getting DHS to agree to a temporary freeze of ongoing across-the-board cuts the agency made to services that eliminated hundreds of hours of critical support per month for some people.
We continue to monitor DHS’s efforts to create a long-term plan for assessing the needs of individuals and providing adequate notice to people of changes to their services.
Promote Community-Based Housing & Job Opportunities
We will provide guidance for policymakers considering expanding supported housing and employment on disability-related issues with a focus on accessibility and workforce equity for persons with disabilities.
Protect People Whose Guardians Violate Their Civil Rights
Sometimes a court appoints an adult to make important life decisions for another adult who cannot make decisions without being in serious harm’s way due to their disability. A guardian can make decisions that affect another person’s care and well-being, such as where they live, what healthcare they get, and how they spend their time. Once guardianships are in place, there is very little monitoring.
We work to protect people with guardians from abuse or neglect.
We empower clients with information about their rights under guardianship, such as their right to terminate the guardianship, and their right to a less restrictive alternative to guardianship.
The Right to Vote
People with disabilities have the same right to cast a private and independent ballot as their fellow Americans.
We continue to conduct outreach and monitoring to ensure the right to vote across the state.
Mental Health Rights
Meet the Healthcare Needs of Every Child in Foster Care
Nearly every child who enters foster care needs access to healthcare to address the trauma resulting from being removed from their home. Yet, thousands of children across the state who have endured abuse or neglect must wait months before they receive care. Getting the right support from the earliest age possible can change a child’s destiny.
Meeting children’s healthcare needs will nurture their well-being, help them build healthy bonds with the adults who care for them, and create a strong foundation for living a healthy life and reaching their potential.
We will continue to advocate that the State of Oregon transform Oregon’s foster care system. (Wyatt B. v. Brown).
Help People with Mental Illness Transition to Community Life
Every person deserves the opportunity to strive for as much independence and self-determination as possible. Some people with mental illness may spend time in an institution whether it’s a private hospital, the state psychiatric hospital, prison, jail, or a Stabilization and Crisis Unit.
We advocate for effective planning to help people successfully transition from living in an institution back to community life. For a person to have a successful transition, it often requires: a place to live, health insurance, a community healthcare provider, and benefits to meet their basic needs.
Decriminalize Mental Illness
People with mental health illness who can’t find care in their communities often end up in jail. Jail is one of the worst places for people with mental illness to be.
We’re advocating to:
- Reduce the large number of people with mental illness who get caught up in the criminal justice system;
- Give more people the opportunity to receive mental health treatment in their communities, rather than an institution; and
- Help ensure jails and the state psychiatric hospital develop individual plans for people with mental illness who go back to their communities that position them for success.
More specifically, we’re striving to:
- Expand alternatives to jail for people accused of low level offenses and in need of mental healthcare by connecting them to mental health treatment services at two critical points: before they’re arrested or before they’re booked into jail;
- Expand access to community-based mental health treatment for defendants who are found unable to aid and assist in their own defense;
- Improve plans for release from the state mental hospital or jail for people who are found unable to aid and assist in their defense.
Civil Rights of Individuals in Institutions
End Solitary Confinement in Oregon’s Jails & Prisons
Research shows that social isolation and sensory deprivation causes mental illness symptoms to worsen. In some cases, isolation can cause mental illness in individuals with no history. Isolation of individuals, including people with serious mental health conditions, in institutions persists.
We’re working to end solitary confinement for people with serious mental illness in Oregon’s jails and prisons.
Protect the Rights of Individuals in the State Psychiatric Hospital
Practices at the state hospital have improved significantly in recent decades. Disability Rights Oregon continues to monitor conditions, the use of restraints and forced medications, and the recognition of patient rights.
Opening Doors to Work
Expanding Community Jobs for People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities
Historically, people with disabilities were excluded from many parts of society, including the workforce. For people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, work meant spending their days segregated from the rest of the world in “sheltered workshops.” Their pay was often paltry – far less than the minimum wage.
In 2012, we filed the first U.S. class action lawsuit to challenge sheltered workshops that pay sub-minimum wages to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in segregated environments. In 2015, the parties reached a settlement agreement, which calls for:
- 1,115 Oregonians working in sheltered workshops to receive jobs in the community at equal pay;
- 7,000 Oregonians to receive services to help them find a community job;
- ensuring the employment services include at least 4,900 youth ages 14 to 24 years old, who are exiting school.
We continue to monitor and enforce this agreement.
Employment: Helping Social Security Beneficiaries Address Work Barriers
Lifting barriers to employment for people who receive Social Security benefits but who are ready, willing, and able to work helps Oregonians with disabilities build a brighter future for themselves and their families.
You can check out our self-advocacy resources if you want information about how to enforcement your employment rights including the right to request reasonable accommodation.
Client Assistance Program: Helping Oregonians with Disabilities Advocate for Their Rights
We help Oregonians who are seeking or receiving services from Oregon’s Vocational Rehabilitation Office to communicate their needs, aspirations, and point of view to the employment counselors. We help people with applying or appealing a legally improper decision related to vocational rehabilitation, independent living, or employment services.
Social Security Benefits: Overpayments
From time to time, the Social Security Administration pays an individual more money in their check than they should have. This could happen for a number of reasons, such as a change in the person’s income, starting a new job, a new living situation or a change in marital or disability status. When this happens, the Social Security Administration sends a notice of overpayment and the individual must respond. Disability Rights Oregon provides limited assistance on overpayment issues.
Social Security Benefits: Plan for Work
Some people who receive Social Security disability-based benefits—Social Security Income (SSI) and/or Social Security Disability (SSD)—decide to pursue work, but don’t know how this change may affect their benefits and healthcare. It’s possible for people who receive disability benefits to work without losing their benefits until they become self-supporting. Both SSI and SSDI allow a person time to test his or her ability to work without losing money or health coverage. Disability Rights Oregon helps Oregonians with disabilities make informed decisions about work and successfully transition to greater financial independence.
Right to an Education
Ensure Every Child Can Attend School for a Full Day
Every child needs support to thrive in their classroom and develop the skills they need to succeed in life. Hundreds of Oregon children don’t attend full days of school for months or even years at a time. Some children are removed from school altogether and given an hour or two of tutoring per day. With the right support, all children can learn in school alongside their classmates.
DRO is advocating for the State of Oregon to play a larger role in making sure that school districts can support children with disabilities in their classrooms through our lawsuit. You can advocate for your child’s rights with this short school day tool kit.
Safeguard School Children from Seclusion and Physical Restraint
All children need to be safe at school. Students can only be physically restrained or secluded in school when their behavior poses a reasonable threat of imminent, substantial bodily injury to self or others and when less restrictive interventions would not be effective. We will analyze how often school districts use seclusion and restraint and determine whether districts are following state reporting requirements.
Access to Healthcare
Promote access to effective healthcare for people with disabilities who seek care in emergency rooms.
We will advocate for equal access to emergency medical care and ask hospitals to effectively plan for the release of patients who experience homelessness or are at risk of returning home.
Improve Access to Assistive Technology
We will advocate for insurance coverage of medically necessary Assistive Technology through individual advocacy as well as systemic collaboration with key partners.
Strengthening Financial Protections
Social Security Benefits: Financial Protections
We monitor representative payees across Oregon to ensure they are appropriately using the financial benefits of the Social Security beneficiaries and educate representative payees on their duties and responsibilities.
Terms that We Use
Abuse & Neglect: The many types of abuse include:
- physical harm,
- failure to provide basic care,
- abandonment or involuntary seclusion,
- unwanted sexual contact,
- verbal or emotional abuse,
- wrongful restraint and
- financial exploitation
Institutions: Facilities that provide care or treatment to individuals with disabilities, including hospitals, jails, and prisons.
Reasonable accommodations: Changes or adjustments to a job, work environment, housing, or public place that enables a person with a disability to perform essential job functions, live in and move about their community, or access public places like everyone else.